A spectacular head-on collision between two galaxies fueled an unusual triangular-shaped star-birthing frenzy, as captured in a new image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.
The interacting galaxy duo is collectively called Arp 143. The pair contains the glittery, distorted, star-forming spiral galaxy NGC 2445 at right, along with its less flashy companion, NGC 2444 at left.
Astronomers suggest that the galaxies passed through each other, igniting the uniquely shaped star-formation firestorm in NGC 2445, where thousands of stars are bursting to life on the right-hand side of the image.
This galaxy is awash in starbirth because it is rich in gas, the fuel that makes stars. However, it hasn’t yet escaped the gravitational clutches of its partner NGC 2444, shown on the left side of the image. The pair is waging a cosmic tug-of-war, which NGC 2444 appears to be winning. The galaxy has pulled gas from NGC 2445, forming the oddball triangle of newly minted stars.
NGC 2444 is also responsible for yanking taffy-like strands of gas from its partner, stoking the streamers of young, blue stars that appear to form a bridge between the two galaxies.
These streamers are among the first in what appears to be a wave of star formation that started on NGC 2445’s outskirts and continued inward. Researchers estimate the streamer stars were born between about 50 million and 100 million years ago. But these infant stars are being left behind as NGC 2445 continues to pull slowly away from NGC 2444.
Stars no older than 1 million to 2 million years are forming closer to the center of NGC 2445. Hubble’s keen sharpness reveals some individual stars. They are the brightest and most massive in the galaxy. Most of the brilliant blue clumps are groupings of stars. The pink blobs are giant, young, star clusters still enshrouded in dust and gas.
Although most of the action is happening in NGC 2445, it doesn’t mean the other half of the interacting pair has escaped unscathed. The gravitational tussle has stretched NGC 2444 into an odd shape. The galaxy contains old stars and no new starbirth because it lost its gas long ago, well before this galactic encounter.
Hubble was launched in 1990 and continues to amaze us with wonderful images. It has changed our understanding of Space.
The Orkney News has an informative series of astronomy articles by expert Duncan Lunan. Use the search engine to find out more. Here is the latest: Planets of Other Stars